Why We Need a Theory of Suffering, and Lots of Other Theories as Well: Commentary
Churchill, Larry R.
Journal of Clinical Ethics. 1991 Summer; 2(2): 95-97.
In the first section of his article, "The Role of Suffering and Community in Clinical Ethics," Erich Loewy sketches a theory of suffering. His conviction is that clinical medical ethics is not clearly rooted in theory and is inadequately grounded because of this. While acknowledging the merits of virtue ethics and casuistry, Loewy quickly dispenses with them, as contenders for this theoretical basis. Kantianism and utilitarianism are likewise rejected as "a universally acceptable grounding for ethics." In their place, Loewy proposes that "a deeper and more universal grounding can be found in the capacity of sentient beings to suffer." It is on this capacity to suffer that he builds his hierarchies of moral value, including primary, secondary, and symbolic worth. This theory of suffering should be welcomed. It promises to expand our awareness of clinical experience, and moral life generally, away from autonomy, utility, or virtue orientations toward attention to suffering and our response to it. Such a theory can give us a revitalized language to probe the issues of medical ethics. This should lead us to a careful reading of Loewy's larger work on which this article is based. Yet my enthusiasm is tempered by Loewy's noncritical acceptance of a peculiar, yet pervasive, understanding of the role and use of theory in ethics....
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